The #1 Way to Raise a Successful Child

The #1 Way to Raise a Successful Child

“What is the most important quality to nurture in our child so that he will be successful in his life—in his personality, his work, his relationships?”

This was the question one mother asked psychologist Sara Teichman in last week’s issue of Binah. And I’ve been thinking about Dr. Teichman’s surprising response ever since.

Dr. Teichman writes that we tend to think that self esteem is the most important quality to encourage in our children.

“Way to go!”
“You are amazing!”
“Three cheers for Sara’le!”

But a study published by the Association for Psychological Science in 2003 called “Does High Self Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” revealed that even though increased self esteem makes people feel better, it does not mean that they perform better. In fact, in this specific study, a group of poorly performing university students who received a series of self-esteem enhancing peptalks actually ended up performing WORSE academically than the students whose self-esteem had been left unchanged.

In the wake of the self-esteem study’s disappointing results, one of the study’s authors, Roy Baumeister, went on a search for the most important quality trait to encourage in our children. And he found it.

That trait, he believes, is self control.

Childhood self control, it turns out, predicts success in education, career, and marriage. The New York Times reported this past February that self control is, in fact, TWICE as important as intelligence in predicting academic achievement.

So what is self-control? First of all, we don’t teach self-control by forcing our children to do what we want them to do.

Children with self control have learned to manage themselves without external orders or threats. They have learned to take responsibility (i.e., for homework, chores, kind behavior, mitzvah performance) even when nobody is looking.

So how do we promote self-control in our children? First and foremost, by providing a personal example of self control.

In addition, Dr. Teichman suggests the following tips to promoting self control:

Emphasize responsibility (as opposed to fun, popularity, winning, etc). Teach children that the reward for responsibility is privilege. For example, being responsible about doing homework is rewarded with a later bedtime.

Encourage activities that involve self-discipline. For example, find a hobby that your child loves that will require active, long-term effort to succeed, such as playing an instrument or a sport

Establish long-term goals. Saving up money for a new bike over the course of several months, for example, is a great way to exercise the self-control muscle.

Talk about high but achievable expectations, and praise all efforts to reach that goal. Praise a child’s ability to raise a C average to a B average in her least favorite subject.

Dr. Teichman concludes her advice with these words:
“Though it would be foolish to deny the value of good self-esteem, we do want to make sure that our children do not feel good at the expense of their character. It’s not enough to feel good; a child must also learn to do good. It is the wise parent who uses childhood to prepare a child for adulthood—and ensures the success of that child by making sure that he or she learns self control.”

Dr. Sara Teichman is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, California. She is a noted lecturer who speaks and conducts parenting workshops throughout the US.

Related posts:

The Guilt-Ridden Mother
Smiling on the Roller Coaster
The Return to Routine (6-Minute Mommy Peptalk)

5 comments

  1. in my parenting classes, i always stress the need for parents to teach their children self-control. one way to achieve this is to set clear boundaries for your child. this helps the child learn experientially how far they can go and what they can do in daily activities and interpersonal contact. there are some children who naturally have a sense of self-control (i.e. setting boundaries and working within them). however, there are many personality types who do not have that natural sense and it is the responsibility of a parent to teach them that. this is done by the parent setting and reinforcing boundaries in both space and action. it is not easy because it requires the (often tired and overwhelmed) parent to be consistent and alert , but it can be done. the initial outlay of time and effort will be worth the end goal of “raising a mentcsh”.

  2. Oy, please be careful! This is good advice for producing anorexia and ocd in kids. The question itself is flawed; good parenting can’t truly be distilled into one quality, b/c children are different from one another. Yes, Dr. Teichman, we’ve all been reading a/b the “dangers” of overpraising for the past decade or so. But the reality is, the best ingredient for spiritually and emotionally healthy children is tefila, combined with being attuned to each child’s needs and expression. A one size fits all approach to emphasizing self-control could be disastrous.

  3. Rachel Shifra

    I think the goal should be empathy. If a child cares and feels for other people that leads to self control and respect for ones self

  4. Thanks for this article, and thanks to everybody who shared. It’s great to hear different perspectives on this.

Leave a Reply